Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Family fun redux: 'The Goldbergs' and 'Dr Who'

Wonderful years: For a series that's so derivative, The Goldbergs manages to grow on you.

Wonderful years: For a series that's so derivative, The Goldbergs manages to grow on you.

The Goldbergs plays on the familiar premise that dysfunctional families are really fun to watch.

Meet the Goldbergs – there’s dad Murray (Jeff Garlin), mum Beverley (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and their three children Erica (Hayley Orrantia), Barry (Troy Gentile) and Adam (Sean Giambrone) who, incidentally, is the alter ego of Adam F. Goldberg, the creator of new sitcom The Goldbergs. Oh, and there’s grandpa Albert too, played by George Segal.

Set in the 1980s, The Goldbergs is quite obviously fashioned after that decade’s hit dramedy The Wonder Years, a coming-of-age tale of protagonist Kevin Arnold a teen growing up in the late 1960s in an all-American family.

Both shows have a very similar format, seen through the eyes of the slightly geeky adolescent son (in this case, Adam) whose adult self provides the narration for each episode. Both shows revolve around a dysfunctional family whose actions make you want to cringe – but eventually, you end up loving and rooting for them.

And both have sentimental, heart-warming messages to share after every 30-minute episode that’s packed with sibling fights, parental yelling and family misadventures. Even the character types are similar: Barry, the middle child on The Goldbergs, is a jock who is constantly taunting and bullying Adam (reminiscent of the relationship between the Arnold boys, Wayne and Kevin) while big sister Erica is a teenager who’s too absorbed in her own life to be bothered with the boys’ antics (much like Olivia d’Abo’s character Karen).

Now, the thing about modelling a series after a classic is that if you can’t do a better job (or at least a good enough job), you’re aiming for failure right from the get go. Audiences, at least those above 30 who were old enough to have watched The Wonder Years, won’t be very forgiving if the show is a poor imitation.

Which is why I had a problem with the first couple of episodes of The Goldbergs. The show seemed contrived, both the story and characters; and although those episodes were not terrible, they were just a couple of steps away (OK, maybe four) from being good.

You don’t get the family “feel” from the characters and the plot of the pilot seems as recycled as the show’s concept. Barry’s birthday is fast approaching and he angles for his parents’ permission to let him drive – vaguely familiar, no? Mom says no, dad says OK behind her back and when the father and son go out on their secret drive, disaster strikes (not vague anymore, this actually was a plotline in at least a few other family-oriented sitcoms, I am sure).

But, hey, we can’t always judge a series by its pilot.

The Goldbergs improves as it progresses and thankfully, it doesn’t take that long. By the third episode, the characters start developing better chemistry with each other and the plotlines, though still seeming familiar, hold together better.

And the characters do start to grow on you, particularly Beverley the smothering mum who is finding it hard to accept that her youngest son is growing up and who can’t help but meddle in the lives of others.

McLendon-Covey does a fine job with her character – she’s overbearing and manipulative but it’s only because she loves her family to a fault and doesn’t see how a little scheming to get what she wants can be bad.

In one episode, Beverly realises, sadly, that not-so-little Adam doesn’t want to snuggle and hug her anymore. I mean, come on, which teenage boy wants to be constantly hugged by his mother, at home let alone in public, right? Beverley isn’t happy. And she’s not quite ready to accept this. When she finds out that Adam disobeyed her – by tricking his grandfather into taking him to a horror movie she had forbidden him to watch – she decides that instead of punishing him for his sneakiness, she will use the “leverage” to get her the hugs she wants.

What does she do? She plants scary reminders of the movie around the house ( she places a scary-looking clown in his room, she messes with the TV remote so the TV reception is interrupted, etc) to spook him so much that he’d come to her for comfort. And it works.

Yes, McLendon-Covey is clearly the star of the show along with her TV father, Segal, who plays the doting grandfather who is also a ladies’ man (much to her chagrin).

The Goldbergs may not be very original but the show has enough heart and stand-out characters to make it work. — S. Indramalar

> The Goldbergs airs at 9.30pm every Tuesday on 8TV (Astro Ch 708/HyppTV Ch 108).

Dr Who 

This Doctor kills – or so it is alleged in the season opener when the baddie Clockwork Robot plunges out of a hot air balloon after arm-wrestling the Doctor, only to be skewered by Big Ben.

When he crosses paths with his archenemies the Daleks in the second episode, the new Doctor promptly turns them inside out.

Peter Capaldi, who takes over the Tardis (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, aka the time machine) from Matt Smith, did promise that his Doctor would be “less user-friendly” and “a little darker”. And arriving from the bowels of a Tyrannosaurus rex lost in Victorian London, Capaldi’s Doctor wastes no time showing that he means to keep his word.

What Whovians (Dr Who fans) will be happy to hear is that regeneration has not killed the Doctor’s sense of humour.

He even takes a few shots at his new grey look, especially the eyebrows: “These are attack eyebrows! You can take bottle tops off with these!”

Once he’s kitted up in his own signature togs, sans bow tie or fez or scarf, and has redecorated the Tardis, we have to say, this Twelfth Doctor is looking sharp. – Hari Kesuma

> Doctor Who Season Eight airs at 7.30pm every Sunday on BBC Entertainment (HyppTV Ch 614).

Tags / Keywords: TV , On The Air


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